Eighteen-year-old Alaska Native “John” thought of himself as a throw-away kind of guy, a bully, an outcast.
And things seemed to get worse for John shortly after he was arrested for a minor assault and public drunkenness in the Native village of Kotzebue, Alaska. At that time he was faced with a choice: attend a correctional class offered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) or go to court.
John chose court. But in the days leading up to his hearing, he also began regularly loitering outside the building where the class was being held. “He was magnetized by the energy of the coordinator and the class,” says EDC’s Jacob Flores, who works in the Tribal Youth Program Training and Technical Assistance Center.
Specialists such as Flores who are part of EDC’s Tribal Youth Program Training and Technical Assistance Center work to develop relationships with the members of 125 federally recognized tribes. Working in person, over the phone, and via the Internet, these specialists provide support in everything from strategic planning to sharing information about programs and strategies to ensure that American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) tribal communities will be successful in reducing juvenile crime. The tribal communities work with their own youth to decrease delinquency, provide services and prevention programs for court-involved youth, improve juvenile court services, promote alcohol and drug abuse prevention, and improve accessibility to mental health services for individuals like John.
“I worked one-on-one with the coordinator who first met with this young man,” says Flores, who also grew up in a tribal community. “I answered questions and talked him through the difficulties of helping realize the potential of this young man.”
One day, John finally walked through the doorway of the class. Ready to cope with the trauma he had faced, John told the class he’d been physically and emotionally abused and abandoned by his parents.
John went on to complete the class, and his charges were dismissed. He eventually became a volunteer in the classroom he had once refused to enter.
“We understand the unique challenges tribes face,” says EDC’s Stephanie Autumn. “Most importantly, we share the vision that AI/AN communities have for a healthy and secure future for their youth.”
EDC’s technical assistance specialists, most of whom are American Indian themselves, know their communities’ needs, values, and cultural protocols. This knowledge puts them in a unique position to help youth such as John.
“There has been a lot of pain inflicted on the American Indian and Alaska Native communities, and for most, it has never been resolved,” says Flores. “Fortunately, this young man from Kotzebue has now found a place to be and something meaningful to participate in.”
Originally published on July 20, 2011